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PARK LANE

a novel

Frances Osborne

Vintage Books
A Division of Random House, Inc.
New York

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A VINTAGE BOOKS ORIGINAL, JUNE 2012


Copyright 2012 by Frances Osborne
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Vintage Books,
a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and in Canada by Random House
of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published in hardcover in Great Britain
by Virago Press, an imprint of Little, Brown Book Group, London.
Vintage and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents
either are the product of the authors imagination or are used fictitiously.
Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events,
or locales is entirely coincidental.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Osborne, Frances.
Park Lane : a novel / by Frances Osborne.
p. cm.
ISBN 978-0-345-80328-3
1. WomenEnglandLondonFiction. I. Title.
PR6115.S33P37 2012
813'.6dc23
2012013545
www.vintagebooks.com
Printed in the United States of America
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g r ac e c an j u s t s e e t h e b e d ro o m d o o r h an d l e
ahead of her. In daylight itd be so bright her face would stare back
from the brass. But its not dawn yet and barely February, so theres
just the night-city glow coming through the glass roof. Size of a
schoolyard, it is, all that glass. Theres as much empty space in the
hall of this house as there is in a church.
Shes almost there now, made it along the passageway all quiet,
and with a dead weight in her grasp. Shes not a big girl, either, is
Grace.
The handle is night-cold and turnip-big, ngers only just getting
a turn. Slowly, Grace Campbell, for itll come, and Lord knows
when. If you go quick through it the noise is quicker, though itll be
a screech.
A foot open the door is when it squeaks, but dont you stop still,
Grace Campbell, for the dead lights coming in with you. Another
couple of inches, thats all. There it is, and still the beds quiet.
Shes in; pull the door to or the draughtll gush. A week shes
been here and shes learning fast, though what could get through
those shutters and weigh-a-ton curtains is beyond her. The door
closed, its pitch, and damp from a nights sleep. Let go the handle
slowly now, oh Lord, whats she in for, the latch might as well be a
hoof on stone.
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par k lan e
Theres a noise to her left, a starched-sheet rustle. Grace stops
and it comes again, a slide, a pat of a pillow.
A light comes on, and Grace is in a room of heavy red and green
creeper wallpaper. The room smells of dried roses, and shes facing
a wall of red velvet curtain that has seen better days. Lying in the
curtained bed, blankets up to her nose, is a young woman hardly
older than Grace. Her face, thinks Grace, is so dainty pale that
youd barely see it on the pillow if there wasnt that hair all round,
thick and brown and shining as though it is brushed all day and
night. Graces own dark hair is pulled back and into her mob cap,
sos you cant see it matches her eyes; theyre not like the pair
looking at her from the bed, blue that could be ice or sky, whos to
know which. Puts a fear into Grace, not knowing.
The scuttles near pulling her arm out now, worse when youre
still, even with how her arms are hardening. She cant put it down,
not on the carpet, ever, though theres not a trace of coal dust left
on the bottom. Though she cant hold it for much longer and not
put it down, shell drop it soon enough, and imagine the mess with
that. Not to mention the riot shed be read downstairs. Out it would
be, almost as soon as shed arrived.
The worrys enough to make her angry. Drop the scuttle why
dont you, Grace Campbell, tidy the sheets with your coal-smeared
hands, and tell Miss Beatrice that if shed went to bed at a reasonable
hour she wouldnt mind being woken now.
Good morning?
The very mildness of the words is water on her heat, almost so she
forgets to bob, as well as she can, what with the scuttle and turning.
Ever so sorry, Miss Beatrice. It wont happen again, the door.
Miss Beatrice sits up and her dark hair falls on to her nightdress,
all white like an angels gown. She moves her head, hair like rain as
it comes down.
The door squeaks. You cant help it. Well, hardly anyone can.
There is a trick to it but, but, Im not quite up to leaping out of bed
and giving a demonstration.
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peace
Yes, Miss Beatrice. Would you like me to get it seen to? Grace
almost has it now, talking all respectful as shes supposed to.
No, I meant . . . Oh, dont worry. I suspect it is an idea of
Mothers so that she can hear when I come in, and shell just nd
some other way.
Theres no waiting-up here, thinks Grace, not like Ma and Dad
do. Mind you, it wasnt as if Grace was ever out at those hours.
Three or four in the morning for Master Edward, shed heard from
the footmen, whod be half gone having to wait by the door until he
came in. You wouldnt have thought that was proper, or that Lady
Masters would have any of it.
Its Grace whos waiting now, poker-straight, even if the coals are
trying to bend her.
Please. Miss Beatrice tilts her head towards the replace.
Thank you, miss, I mean Miss Beatrice, miss.
Get it right, Grace Campbell, she tells herself and attempts
another bob, a rickety one, though, but to the grate, quick. On
your knees and reach right to the back, sweep like youre icing a
cake. If she doesnt look like shes just out the mine its a miracle
then. Speck in her eye, and a big one, eyes a river but shut it tight,
for you cant stop.
Fires lit, and Miss Beatrices head is back on the pillow, eyes tight
though the lamps still on. Scuttle half the weight now, its back to
the door, tiptoe now.
Whats your name?
Grace, miss.
Grace.
Yes, Miss Beatrice.
I like that name.
Thank you, miss.
Where are you from, Grace?
Carlisle. Somewhere Miss Beatrice has never been, Graces sure
of that. At least not to Graces part of Carlisle. Not grand, her street
isnt, though the houses only joined to one other, and all new, even
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par k lan e
if the fresh red brick darkened almost as soon as it went up. And
theyd had a maid once. Well, a tweeny. Then Ma said it was an
extravagance, in the circumstances. Grace likes to think the girl
has gone on to better luck.
Long way. Almost Scotland.
Grace nods, mouth shut in case her thoughts come out. Your
impulses, Grace, Ma says. Hold them in and youll go far, well be
right proud of you.
Dont worry about the door. I dont usually wake. Maybe its
because I hadnt heard your step before.
Grace waits; she cant walk on, not while Miss Beatrice is talking
to her, not until shes been told she can. Thats the rule shes been
given, even if Miss Beatrice has stopped talking and is just looking
at her.
Then Miss Beatrice says thank you, sweetly, as though she means
it. Of a sudden theres a warmth in Grace, the tip of a smile spreading on her and pride that is the rst since she came to Number
Thirty-Five last week. Out it comes, before the words are through
her head even, Cup o tea, Miss Beatrice?
Is anyone in the kitchen yet?
What to say to that? If the kitchen maids arent in there by now,
itll be their last day. Shes out of the room and back along the
gallery, where she treads careful and quiet down the middle of the
carpet, thick and red enough for a palace. A palace cant be much
grander than this house, with all the drawing rooms and saloons,
they call them, opening into one another with doors near the size
of the front of a house in those side streets Ma always told her to
avoid. Theres a ballroom at the back, too, whole width of the
house, and at the front theres ve windows, overlooking Hyde
Park. Inside could do with a lick of paint, take a year to do it, it
would, Graces guess, more even. Wallpaper needs doing too, only
so much as you can hide behind paintings, and some of those paintings, well . . . Grace can feel herself blush. Theres a dozen of them
where the people arent wearing any clothes at all.
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peace
Grace hurries. Theres Lady Masters room to do, and her ladys
maids, and Master Edwards. Mary is putting her hand to the big
rooms. The large rooms suit Mary, shes a big girl. In their bed at
night Grace is hard pushed not to nd herself up against all that
thick blonde hair and a chest that the rest of her follows behind.
Mary knows how men look at her, she does, and sometimes wiggles
a little as she walks, as though her hearts on her sleeve for the
taking, which in a way it is, even for Grace. Lets be sisters, Mary says
to her in their bed at night, like there were no division between
them, and Mary not second housemaid to Graces third and Grace
doing the chamber pots.
Pots! Shes forgotten the pot in Miss Beatrices room. Will she
now have to do it in front of her, holding a vinegar rag stinking
worse that whats in the pot itself? Perhaps Miss Beatrice walks to
the bathroom at the back, the younger ones, they surely do that.
What an idea, putting Grace into the bedrooms when she is so new.
Years of practice it must take to do it quiet, and there wasnt a
chance of that. Grace has to be up and running fast.
So whys she gone and offered tea to Miss Beatrice when she
shouldnt be doing tea now and itll make her late? She was soft,
wasnt she, after what Mary told her. Miss Beatrice, Mary said when
they lay talking at night, had her heart right broken. Just the other
day.
Stories that Marys told, Grace shouldnt believe half of them,
but shes a way of making things sound true, pushes any questions
there are right aside. Even about the tall one, that shed swum from
her das dock well, not his, but where his work is right across the
Thames and back again. In the East End, too, where the rivers
wider, for thats where shes from, Mary. East End might as well be
on the Continent for the distance it sounds away. Yes, says Mary, its
another place, and lose yourself in it you do, before you can blink.
Its still night in the kitchen, downstairs under the street. All
freezing grey cavern it is, ceiling only just above ground along the
north side of the house. The windows are on the top half, being the
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par k lan e
only place that overlooks the pavement, and even thats only on to
a high-walled, not-so-wide street at the side that sees little light.
Why its painted grey in here is beyond Grace. The rest of the oor,
the housekeepers and butlers rooms, the servants hall, even the
passageways, are brown and yellow, and the colour gives a bit of
brightness, yellow, warm, too. The kitchen is all black ovens and
pots, the only softening the long bare wood table running the
length of it. Seat thirty, it would, but the kitchen only crowd
around one end of it, rest of it is piled high with choppings and
stirrings.
The ovens heated an hour now, still coal dust in the air, though
that could just be Graces own ngers, the smell stuck to them.
Waters already on, tiny bubbles there too. Grace and the kitchen
maids are over the top, three frilly mob caps in a row.
Theres bubbles, that means its done, says Grace.
Hardly see them.
Its hot enough.
Stew-tea, thats all youll get. But it aint my job.
No, says Grace, looking at the slag heap of greased plates.
Fire or sink, Grace wonders as she climbs the stairs with Miss
Beatrices tea on a tray, which is the better? Better she says, not
good, for better was simply better than worse.

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